Whenever the Wine Curmudgeon reviews Cupcake wines, I always end up writing as much about the brand and the company that owns Cupcake as I do about the wines. That’s because Cupcake may be the most fascinating wine brand in the world today, where what’s in the bottle doesn’t matter nearly as much as how the wine is marketed. It’s genius, actually, all those red velvet cake descriptors propelling the brand to national awareness without any help from the Winestream Media or scores.
Who else would have the nerve to market a wine called Chloe, with a suggested price of $17, targeting “weddings, birthdays and other celebratory gatherings” without any hint of what it tastes like? Or that calling it Chloe has more than a little to do with the name’s popularity for baby girls over the past decade?
Which doesn’t mean Cupcake wines are bad. They inhabit the region between the boring grocery store stuff and the best cheap wine. In this, think of the chain restaurant business, where Cupcake is an upscale steakhouse like Capital Grille or Fleming’s, and the rest of it is Red Lobster and Texas Roadhouse. The food is better at the former, but in the end it’s still chain food, and these wines, no matter how much Cupcake dresses them up, are still chain wines.
The cabernet, from California, is full, fruity, and almost balanced, with soft tannins, cherry fruit, and an odd sort of chocolate flavor. It’s not quite sweet, though the residual sugar is higher than in most red wines. It’s much better than I expected it to be, and certainly drinkable. If you’re going to make a focus group wine, this is the way to do it.
The Italian-made pinot grigio, on the other hand, is surprisingly disappointing, given how easy it is to make cheap, palatable pinot grigio. It’s oddly disjointed, with a dollop of sweet white fruit in the middle, a quality that doesn’t go with its traditional, Italian-style quinine approach that makes up the rest of the wine and is so popular among women of a certain age. My guess is that the dollop is there to sweeten the wine in line with Cupcake’s flavor profile, a winemaking trick that is cheaper or easier or more legal than adding sugar.
So one yes and one no. Assuming, of course, you can’t find a better $10 wine, which isn’t all that difficult. The labels just aren’t as much fun to read.